Monday, 24 April, 2017

Trapped Mosul civilians could face worst catastrophe of Iraq conflict, United Nations warns

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Howard Terry | 19 April, 2017, 01:42

Iraqi government forces have taken back most of it in a US -backed offensive launched in October, including the half that lies east of the Tigris river.

Last October, Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite volunteer fighters, commonly referred to as the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) teamed up with an global coalition, including the USA, to drive ISIS from out of Mosul and the areas surrounding the city.

"Civilians in Mosul face incredible, terrifying risks", said the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande.

It is the second chemical attack against the Iraqi troop in two days, after an officer with the anti-terrorism unit said ISIS fired a rocket loaded with chlorine at the al-Abar neighborhood in western Mosul.

Iraqi Federal Police forces "are engaged in hard, house-to-house clashes with ISIS fighters inside the Old City", a media officer from these units told Reuters.

Almost half a million civilians have fled Mosul since the start of the campaign to free the city from Islamic State, new figures show, as the battle becomes bogged down in street-to-street fighting.

Mosul, 400 km north of the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, has been under IS control since June 2014, when Iraqi government forces abandoned their weapons and fled, enabling IS militants to take control of parts of Iraq's northern and western regions. Nearly 330,000 people have fled Mosul since Iraq started an operation to expel Islamic State in October.

The militants are now surrounded in the northwestern quarter including the historic Old City, countering the offensive with booby traps, suicide motorbike attacks, sniper and mortar fire, occasionally using shells filled with toxic gas.

The battle for western Mosul is very different from the one in the east and so is the consequent impact on civilians. They are being shot at, there are artillery barrages, families are running out of supplies, medicines are scarce and water is cut-off.

"There are discussions and dialogue between messengers representing [IS leader Abu Bakr] Baghdadi and representing [the head of al Qaeda, Ayman] al Zawahiri", he said.

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